Coronavirus pandemic sees rise in pet adoptions, animal rescues

Donations sought to help fund nonprofit

Posted 12/13/20

A local animal rescue has seen a huge uptick in pet adoptions and rescues as folks continue to work from home during the pandemic.

“Oh, it’s been insane,” said Sara Penhallegon …

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Coronavirus pandemic sees rise in pet adoptions, animal rescues

Donations sought to help fund nonprofit

Posted

A local animal rescue has seen a huge uptick in pet adoptions and rescues as folks continue to work from home during the pandemic.

“Oh, it’s been insane,” said Sara Penhallegon of the Center Valley Animal Rescue. “There’s been a huge rise; it’s been more adoptions than we’ve ever seen before.”

Penhallegon wears many hats at the rescue and rehabilitation center. In addition to being the founder and director, she is also a veterinary technician and wildlife rehabilitator.

While the increase in adoptions have certainly been a positive outcome, the rise has not been without its consequences.

“We don’t have the manpower to go over applications that quickly, and we actually ran out of adoptable cats at one point,” Penhallegon explained. “Unfortunately, there seems to still be a huge need for rescue, so we ultimately aren’t running out of animals.”

The increased demand for animal companionship is seeing animals that would otherwise be considered less desirable, finding homes — including a 21-year-old deaf cat.    

But what about when the time comes for recent adopters to return to work, as the largest impacts of the pandemic begin to subside? Will people conversely make the decision to surrender their pets, once they have to return to the office?

While Penhallegon said the return of already adopted pets remains a worry for the shelter, she feels confident that Center Valley Animal Rescue’s vetting process is adequately weeding out adopters who, if not for the pandemic, would be unable to keep a pet.

“We go through all these different things to make sure it’s a responsible home,” Penhallegon said. “I would say that the majority of the people that have been adopting with us are people that want to bring a new animal into their household, but they haven’t been home enough to bring that new animal in.”

In some cases, she said, the better option is actually for someone to adopt two animals so that they can act as companions to one another once the owner eventually returns to work.

More troubling, Penhallegon said, is the choice of animals that some people are adopting. In many cases people are taking young wild animals from their native habitats and attempting to domesticate and raise them in their homes.

“With wildlife, there’s been a huge uptick. We’re up about 90 animals from the year before in terms of intakes,” she said. “We’ve had a huge group of people that thought it would be fun to take baby raccoons and raise them because they’re home because of COVID.”

While undeniably adorable, Penhallegon said baby raccoons quickly turn into destructive and messy juvenile raccoons.

People who abduct raccoons quickly learn that they are in over their head, well after the animal has been tamed. Once that happens, it becomes the job of the staff at Center Valley Animal Rescue to teach these animals how to be wild again.

In the wild, animals learn the skills necessary for their survival naturally. What to eat, where to sleep and what dangers to avoid are all skills that need to be taught to the animals after they have been taken away from their natural habitat.

In addition to the basic skills of staying alive, animals also need to be taught to fear humans — a skill that the director said is never fun for the staff to teach.

“Teaching them that people are bad, we have to haze them, and that’s like being mean to animals and that’s not what we want to do,” Penhallegon said. “But they have to learn that people are bad and to stay away from people.”

In many cases it involves a long process of cultivating negative interactions with humans, essentially the exact opposite of the typical positive reinforcement training.

“Some of them it might be just yelling or setting off a foghorn or something like that and it might be that easy; others are going to be a lot more difficult,” she said.

For many nonprofits such as the Center Valley Animal Rescue, donors who would otherwise be cutting checks to their usual benefactors in many cases are waiting to see what the future of the pandemic holds before making their contributions.

That said, the work of Center Valley Animal Rescue will be continuing thanks to a fruitful virtual fundraising effort.

Penhallegon estimated that the nonprofit brought in about $90,000 through a recent virtual auction event alone.

The animal rescue is currently holding its 2020 Holiday Raffle. Tickets are $2 apiece or three tickets for $5 and participants will have an opportunity to win a variety of prizes including a set of handmade wooden bowls, a geoduck hoodie, crocheted gloves and plenty more. The ticket drawing will be held Dec. 19 via Facebook Live.

Penhallegon said the work of the rescue continues full-steam amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the nonprofit has also been tapped to take in animals that have been recovered from hoarding cases and other incidents in which law enforcement have had to step in and remove animals from properties.

To donate to the Center Valley Animal Rescue, or to purchase raffle tickets, go to centervalleyanimalrescue.org.

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